Body-in-a-barrel Lake Mead mystery swirls as missing mob man’s sister comes forward

·4 min read

The bodies keep surfacing – and the mysteries keep deepening: A fourth set of remains has been found at the shrinking Lake Mead, which straddles the Arizona and Nevada border, as waters recede amidst a two-decade megadrought.

The first discovered remains -- a body in a barrel with all the signs of a mob hit, happened upon by boaters in May -- continues to mystify investigators after a woman came forward saying she believes the body belongs to her brother.

Bobbi Eugene Shaw has been missing since 1977 and was involved with the mafia, his sister told KVVU.

“When they found the first body in the barrel, I knew it was him,” Ms Brock said. “I still feel it is him.”

Ms Brock said she’d been contacted by police in May for DNA samples.

“We are praying that it is Bob,” she said. “I know he is gone, but a definite knowing would make me feel better.”

Lake Mead Photo Gallery (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)
Lake Mead Photo Gallery (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

The Las Vegas Metro Police Department referred all questions to the National Park Service, which did not immediately return request for comment from The Independent.

At the Mob Museum in Las Vegas, however, it was the first they’d heard of Mr Shaw. The body in the barrel has been on everyone’s lips for months as enthusiasts and executives do their best to solve the puzzle of who the victim might be.

Geoffrey Schumacher, vice president of exhibits and programs at the museum, tells The Independent the standout theory is that the body may be that of Johnny Pappas.

Mr Pappas managed a hotel at Lake Mead and was trying to sell a boat he had docked there at the time he went missing. He apparently had ties to the mob, and disappeared in 1976; his car was found four days after he was last seen.

“The interest remains high in Las Vegas about just who the body in the barrel was,” Mr Schumacher tells The Independent. “Speculation continues; people continue to ask me, for example, all the time about it.

“Some people in the community who’ve been reading this closely, following this closely, have ... kind of picked who they think it is – and that is Johnny Pappas.”

He says Mr Pappas is “certainly the one that, in our research, we think is the closest possible match for this.”

That being said, no one seems to know. Other names mentioned as the possible victim have been William Crespo, a drug mule who’d allegedly turned government witness before vanishing in 1983, and Jay Vandermark, a slot machine manager who possibly knew too much about money skimming operations.

Jay Vandermark vanished in Phoenix in 1976 (Phoenix Police Department)
Jay Vandermark vanished in Phoenix in 1976 (Phoenix Police Department)

Mr Schumacher is hoping to hear from relatives of any potential victims while trying to contact Ms Brock in a continued effort to solve the mystery.

“At the pace that things are going and sort of in modern society, I kind of have a suspicion that we may solve this one before the end of the year,” he tells The Independent, adding: “It gets so much publicity, not only in Las Vegas, but around the country and around the world, that there are bound to be more people, like the sister of Bobbi Shaw, coming forward to say, ‘Well, maybe it’s this person, or maybe here’s some information that might be helpful in one way or another.’”

Lake Mead, an artificial Colorado River reservoir, has fallen victim to the worst drought in modern history of the West and Southwest. Levels have become so depleted that Las Vegas began pumping water from deeper within Lake Mead, which provides water and power to millions.

The lake’s levels have dropped to their lowest in nearly 100 years as climate change worsens, not only threatening resources but also revealing secrets.

The body in the barrel was found in May at Hemenway Harbor, but the remains discoveries kept coming. Later that month, skeletal remains were discovered at Callville Bay; in July, more remains were found at Swim Beach. On 6 August, authorities were again called to Swim Beach after the discovery of more remains, according to a press release from the National Park Service. None of the bodies have been identified so far.

While the body in the barrel holds endless fascination for the public, hearkening back to the mob history of Vegas, Mr Schumacher believes “the large majority of the discoveries will be drowning victims” but concedes “it is possible” that another murder victim could surface.

“From, let’s call it 1940, to the present day, a whole lot of people have been at Lake Mead out on boats, fishing from the shore, swimming, doing whatever they do,” he says. “Millions and millions and millions of people ... that was the most popular recreation area in the country for many years. And who knows the breadth of scenarios in which people have died there.”